Natter's bat in flight

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The forest is home to 11 of the UK’s 17 bat species

An ancient forest home to a rare bat species has been given a £4.2m lottery grant to protect threatened wildlife.

The National Lottery Fund granted the money to Hainault Forest in Redbridge, east London, which is home to 11 of the 17 bat species breeding in the UK.

Bats suffered significant decline across the country during the start of the 20th Century.

Redbridge Council said the grant would restore the forest to “its former natural and wild state”.

The forest, which has 500,000 visitors each year, was where the rare Barbastelle bat was spotted in 2017 – the first time it had been seen in London in half a century.

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The ancient site in east London also hosts tawny owls

It is home to a range of different species, including tawny owls, badgers, fallow deer, toads, stag beetles and hedgehogs.

But the Woodland Trust site has seen a decline in its habitats and species, while its historic buildings are at risk of dereliction, the council said.

The council’s chief executive Andy Donald hailed the “fantastic” decision by the national lottery to grant the fund, saying it will make wildlife “thrive”.

“The investment will allow us to more effectively protect habitats and species that are currently in decline”, Mr Donald said.

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Fallow deer have also found a home in Hainault Forest

“It will also offer much more to visitors who will be able to enjoy the historic buildings and popular farm.

“It’s a very exciting project that draws its inspiration from the rich history of the forest,” he added.

People from the community will be playing a vital role in “restoring their forest to its former wild glory”, the council said, as they gain qualifications in fields ranging from forestry to horticulture.

Woodland Trust will work alongside other organisations, including London Wildlife Trust and Essex Bat Groups, to provide specialist training on how to maximise care for the environment.

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